Wednesday, October 05, 2011

"Palestine" given status in Council for Europe; Israel doesn't object

From the Council of Europe:

Strasbourg, 04.10.2011 – The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) today voted to grant “Partner for democracy” status to the Palestinian National Council – only the second time such status has been accorded.

Presenting the report at today’s debate, Tiny Kox (Netherlands, UEL) said the status “created new opportunities for the Palestinian people” and could be seen as part of the Arab Spring. The Speaker of the Palestinian National Council Salim Al-Za’noon hailed the decision as “historic” and said it could contribute to establishing peace in the region.

A six-member delegation of Palestinian elected representatives will be able to speak in the Assembly and most of its committees, and propose subjects for debate, but cannot vote.

In return, the Palestinian National Council – in a letter from its Speaker – has pledged to pursue the values upheld by the Council of Europe, hold free and fair elections and work towards abolishing the death penalty, among other commitments.

The Assembly will monitor other key issues such as concluding negotiations for a government of national unity, and making the Palestinian National Council a democratically-elected body. Other points include refraining from violence, rejecting terrorism, recognising the right of Israel to exist and freeing the soldier Gilad Shalit. The Assembly will review progress on these points within two years.

In June this year, the Parliament of Morocco became the first to be granted the new status, which is intended for parliaments from regions neighbouring the Council of Europe who wish to benefit from the Assembly’s experience of democracy-building and to debate common challenges.

The President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is due to address the Assembly on Thursday.
Here are the promises that the Palestinian National Council made in order to be granted this status:

4. The Assembly takes note that, in his letter, the Speaker of the Palestinian National Council, in line with the requirements set out in Rule 60.2 of the Rules of Procedure, reaffirmed that “the Palestinian National Council is committed to the same values as those of the Council of Europe, namely pluralist and gender parity-based democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”, and committed itself to:

4.1. “continuing [its] efforts to raise the awareness of the public authorities and the main players in politics and civil society of the need to make progress in the discussion of issues relating to the abolition of the death penalty and to encourage the authorities concerned to maintain the de facto moratorium that has been established on executions of the death penalty since 2005”;

4.2. “making full use, in [its] institutional and legislative work, of the experience of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, as well as the expertise of the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission), bearing in mind that the Palestinian National Authority has an observer status with the Venice Commission”;

4.3. “continuing [its] efforts to create favourable conditions for holding free, fair and transparent elections in compliance with relevant international standards”;

4.4. “encouraging equal participation of women and men in public life and politics”;

4.5. “encouraging the competent authorities of the Palestinian National Authority to accede to relevant Council of Europe conventions and partial agreements that are open for signature and ratification by non-member states, in particular those dealing with human rights, the rule of law and democracy issues”;

4.6. “inform[ing] the Assembly regularly on the state of progress made in the implementation of the principles of the Council of Europe”.
Remarkably, the Israeli observer at the Council of Europe - Doron Avital of Kadima - supported this initiative in the debate:

On behalf of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, I want to convey our hopes that this step, when and if – only if – its commitments are consistently taken seriously, will in the end prove beneficial first to the welfare, well-being and future of the Palestinian society and, secondly, to the prospect of peace and reconciliation between our two societies.

I also express my appreciation and respect for the work done in the Political Affairs Committee and, specifically, by Mr Kox. I commend his emphasis on presenting in the document the story of Gilad Shalit, and I remind the Council that Gilad Shalit has been in captivity and in Palestinian hands for the past five years, without being afforded any basic human rights. He has not even been allowed a visit by a representative of the International Red Cross. I emphasise that that issue is part of the commitment which the Palestinians take upon themselves in the context of this application, and I commend Mr Kox for including it in his document.

It is, frankly, no secret that in the Israeli Parliament there are voices who either recommend extreme cautiousness with respect to this step or bluntly object to it, yet I make it clear, as the head of the Israeli parliamentary delegation from the Knesset, that I have here today a full mandate to convey to you on behalf of our parliament, and on behalf of Israeli society at large, our hopes and belief that this step, as it represents a general drive in Palestinian society towards democracy and democratic ideals, will indeed prove helpful to the peace process and to the negotiations between our two societies, which I urge Palestinians to join.

A commitment to democracy and to democratic ideals, as all of us in this room know, is an ongoing and demanding process. We Israelis know that very well, as the most recent events on our streets have proven. I am glad that Palestinian society has expressed the will to take this big commitment upon itself, and I wish it success in this important endeavour.

I have no doubt that strengthening the democratic foundations of Palestinian society will prove a constructive and helpful step with respect to the peace process and, I hope, towards a historic resolution of the conflict between our two nations.
Palestinian Arabs are trumpeting this as a step on the way to statehood.

The Council also called upon its members in the UN Security Council to vote to allow "Palestine" to become a full member of the UN.